This database contains bibliographic descriptions of all Wageningen University PhD theses from 1920 onwards. It is updated on a daily basis by WUR Library.
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Piglets in commercial husbandry face a challenge around weaning, because they are weaned abruptly and at a rather young age. Many weanling piglets are poorly adapted to ingest solid food, often resulting in a period of underfeeding leading to several health and welfare problems in the immediate postweaning period. The aim of this thesis was to explore whether providing piglets with more opportunities to learn from their mother about what, how and where to eat increases food intake before and after weaning and consequently can reduce health and welfare problems after weaning. Three ways of learning that could probably be improved in current pig husbandry were chosen: 1) direct learning from the sow through cues derived from observation and eating together, 2) learning in an enriched environment and 3) learning from flavour cues in the maternal diet. Piglets that were allowed to explore novel food items before weaning in the presence of the sow were less reluctant to explore and ingest these novel food items than in her absence. Being able to interact more and eat together with the sow also had positive effects on food intake before weaning and resulted in less damaging behaviour and more play behaviour after weaning. Piglets learn effectively through both observation of the sow and participation with the sow while she eats, and they use information from both the location and the type of food eaten. Enrichment of the environment before weaning positively affected growth and development of feeding-related behaviours before weaning and food intake after weaning. Providing enrichment after weaning increased growth and feed efficiency and decreased diarrhoea and stress-related behaviours. Allowing piglets to learn from flavours in the diet of the sow both before birth and during lactation and subsequently re-exposing piglets to this flavour at weaning increased their growth and food intake and reduced the incidence of diarrhoea and stress-related behaviours. These effects are the result of reduced weaning stress due to the presence of the familiar flavour in the post weaning environment, rather than the result of an increased intake of similarly flavoured food. In conclusion, information from the sow plays a critical role in the development of independent feeding. Improving opportunities for sow-piglet information transfer enhances the ability of piglets to adapt to the postweaning situation, which consequently reduces weaning-related problems.
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